Marinating is the process of soaking foods in a seasoned, often acidic, liquid before cooking. The origin of the word alludes to the use of brine (aqua marina or sea water) in the pickling process, which led to the technique of adding flavor by immersion in liquid. The liquid in question, the marinade, can be either acidic (made with ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine) or enzymatic (made with ingredients such as pineapple, papaya, yogurt, or ginger), or have a neutral pH.[1] In addition to these ingredients, a marinade often contains oils, herbs, and spices to further flavor the food items.

Chicken in marinade

It is commonly used to flavor foods and to tenderize tougher cuts of meat.[2] The process may last seconds or days. Marinades vary between different cuisines.

Marinating is similar to brining, except that brining generally does not involve a significant amount of acid. It is also similar to pickling, except that pickling is generally done for much longer periods, primarily as a means of food preservation, whereas marinating is usually only performed for a few hours to a day, generally as a means of enhancing the flavor of the food.

Tissue breakdown

Beef marinating for a Korean barbecue dish

In meats, the acid causes the tissue to break down, which allows more moisture to be absorbed and results in a juicier end product;[2] however, too much acid can be detrimental to the end product. A good marinade has a balance of acid, oil, and spice. If raw marinated meat is frozen, the marinade can break down the surface and turn the outer layer mushy.[3]

Often confused with marinating, macerating is a similar form of food preparation.

Safety considerations

Raw pork, seafood, beef and poultry may contain harmful bacteria which may contaminate the marinade. Marinating should be done in the refrigerator to inhibit bacterial growth. Used marinade should not be made into a sauce[4] unless rendered safe by boiling directly before use; otherwise, fresh or set-aside marinade that has not touched meat should be used.[5] The container used for marinating should be glass or food safe plastic. Metal, including pottery glazes which can contain lead, reacts with the acid in the marinade and should be avoided.[5][6]

Cancer risk reduction

Cooking animal muscle proteins at high temperature can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs).[7] According to the National Cancer Research Institute such substances present a heightened risk of cancer exposure. Marinating animal muscle proteins can reduce this risk by as much as 95% by creating a barrier to high-temperature cooking. Marination times necessary to reduce the formation of HCAs may be as short as 20 minutes.

See also

  • Barbecue sauce – flavoring sauce used as a marinade, basting or topping for barbecued meat
  • Ceviche – dish of marinated raw fish
  • Saikyoyaki – a method of preparing fish in traditional Japanese cuisine by first marinating fish slices overnight in a white miso paste from Kyoto called saikyo shiro miso
  • Vinaigrette – sauce made from oil and vinegar and commonly used as a salad dressing


  1. Corriher, Shirley (September 1999). "Marinades Add Flavor but Don't Always Tenderize". Fine Cooking. No. 34. Taunton Press. ISSN 1072-5121.
  2. Filippone, Peggy Trowbridge. "Marinade Science - How Marinades Work". Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  3. Camas, Joanne (August 31, 2010). "Marinating Meat Then Freezing It". Epicurious.
  4. "American Institute for Cancer Research". Good Food/Good Health. 2007-06-11. Archived from the original on 2008-03-11. Retrieved 2008-02-02.
  5. Food Safety and Inspection Service. "Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook". USDA. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  6. Rombauer, Irma S.; Becker, Marion Rombauer; Becker, Ethan (1997). Joy of Cooking (1997 Hardcover ed.). New York: Scribner. p. 84. ISBN 0684818701.
  7. S.-W. Choi, J.B. Mason, Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition) 2003
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